Octavia Butler

On this last day of Black History Month, let’s carry forward the legacy of black Americans who, despite their struggles in this violently oppressive country, have shown innovation, talent, depth, and courage. And, let’s look to what is possible in the future.

I was a fan of science fiction and fantasy fiction as a child. It was my favorite escape – imagining impossible adventures, fantastical creatures, emotion-driven characters, good and evil, mystery and magic, creativity and curiosity, exploration and adventure, legacy and the future. The majority of these stories, though, are obviously rooted in western, white patriarchal concepts. I distinctly remember my excitement when I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time – how refreshing to read about a young, female protagonist! Then, as an adult, I found Octavia Butler, a black woman science fiction writer – an afrofuturist who’s short bibliography shifted the white male-dominated field of science fiction with amazingly crafted worlds and powerfully disturbing stories of struggle, colonization and oppression, perseverance, hope, and change.

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Ralph Bunche

As Black History Month nears its close, I have come across another innovative, radical, groundbreaking, extremely intelligent individual who few likely know by name. Ralph Bunche was an academic, political scientist, activist, and diplomat. While alive, he was celebrated for his peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean, for helping form the United Nations, and for his work in the Civil Rights Movement. And, not only was he the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he was the first person of color to receive the award.

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Mae Jemison

This post goes out to my 7-year old science-loving niece, Xenia. I hope that learning about all of these innovative and brilliant black Americans will inspire you to shoot for the stars.

You’ve probably seen a particular photo of Mae Jemison before: an orange puffy suit,  a black round helmet, and a beautiful smile. But, like so many other groundbreaking black Americans, you probably don’t know her by name. Jemison is an engineer, physician, and astronaut. In fact, she was the first African American woman in space.

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bell hooks

bell hooks is a revolutionary writer, educator, and cultural critic. She explores the intersectionality of race, class, and gender and the way they are used to perpetuate systems of oppression. Her feminism is not about elevating women into positions of power that were developed in the patriarchy, but rather replacing the patriarchy with a culture of love and mutuality.

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Florence Griffith Joyner

There are three reasons I want to do a Black History Month post about Florence Griffith Joyner: I purposefully stayed away from featuring athletes, because sometimes it seems like that’s the area most people focus on when considering the accomplishments of black Americans (and the approach starts to feel a little too reminiscent of seeing black Americans as property and not people), but there is no denying that there are many amazing black athletes who deserve to be recognized; Flo Jo is one of the athletes I recall most from my youth; This photo is everything.

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Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks was a photographer, musician, artist, writer, and film director. Not only was he prominent in photo-documentary of the black experience from the 1940s to 1970s, he was a cultural pioneer. He was the first African-American photographer to work for the FSA, Life magazine, and Vogue, and to direct a major Hollywood motion picture. While his photography is what he should be best known for, most know him as the creator of the “blaxploitation” genre of films.

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